Published: April 2008Special Report: Kenya

Kenya's Road to Recovery: Can the Parks Be Saved?

When violence flared in the wake of Kenya's disputed presidential elections last December, tourist areas were largely unaffected, but tourism took a downturn. Can the priciples of sustainable tourism be the country's blueprint for a better future?

Text by Nick Wadhams
Photograph by Georgina Cranston

Back in early December much of the talk here in Kenya was about how the incoming government would manage the country's growing problem: An unprecedented flood of tourists was fueling a never before seen economic boom. Beaches were packed. It was difficult to snap a photo of the abundant wildlife in Kenya's national parks without getting a safari van in the frame, or at least the spidery tracks of dozens that had just left. The tourism industry, some argued, had become too successful.

Less than a month later, in the wake of shocking violence that erupted following the flawed December 27 election, in which President Mwai Kibaki defeated opposition candidate Raila Odinga by just 230,000 votes out of some ten million cast, such dilemmas seemed awfully small. Television footage of the chaos featured men sharpening machetes on the pavement and burning tires in the streets. In the ensuing weeks, some 1,000 people were killed and more than 300,000 fled their homes. By January, occupancy rates in Kenya's hotels had plunged from higher than 80 percent to less than 20 percent. Kenya's parks sat practically empty, their fate tied to political struggle and violence happening far away, while the economy was facing what's been called Kenya's worst crisis since independence from Britain in 1963.

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  • This article is very informatic and im very pleased that ive used it for my kenya project. thankyou …
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